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Create an Intense Movie Poster in Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLanguages:

Designers love to be critical about movie posters, and while you may think you have better ideas about how to sell a movie to an audience, how many times have you actually tried doing it? In this tutorial, we're going to create a poster for a fictional movie called "Fugitive." The movie is meant to be a suspenseful thriller that features one's escape under the cover of darkness, despite man's attempt to capture the lone hero. Thin and cheesy plot? Check. Awesome opportunity to better your PSD skills? You got it!

Final Image Preview

And here it is; the poster we're about to do! I could have just used a dark forest photo for the background, but where's the fun in that? This tutorial is not about finding the shortest route to an end, rather striking the balance between how real you want the setting to look, and cinematic/artistic at the same time. You want it be compelling and truthful, but also control the viewers attention and amount of information they're given. You don't want to spoil the movie, but entice someone to come see it.

Take a look at the poster we'll be creating. 

Video Tutorial

Our video editor Gavin Steele has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.

Step 1

Let's start with the background. I used the largest available version of this photo, but just about any foggy forest image will do. Typically, we'd be working on an A4 or A3 canvas, but for the sake of spending less money on resources, we'll create a scaled down version of an A4 canvas. Not only that, but we're going to create a large background image that we will ultimately crop into a final movie poster. So for the first part, create a 1680 pixels by 1819 pixels at 300 dpi and paste in the forest image. Make a similar layout.

Step 2

We'll now add a series of Adjustment Layers to change the appearance of the photo. You can find them under Layer > New Adjustment Layer. The first one is a Hue/Saturation with Saturation set to -54.

Step 3

Next, add a Curves Adjustment Layer. Drag the curve as seen in the screenshot below.

Step 4

Now add a Selective Color Adjustment Layer. From the drop-down menu, select Blacks. Use the settings shown below.

Step 5

In this part, you need to establish a light source somewhere on the canvas. It's a good idea to add a dot where it will be so that you have a better idea of where the highlights and shadows appear.

From now on you're going to need a pen tablet. You can also do this with a mouse, but the pressure sensitivity makes all the difference. Use the Burn Tool (O) with Exposure set on 15% to darken the darkened portions of the tree trunks. See this before and after image for reference.

Step 6

Do this for each of the trees. Remember that the trees aren't perfectly flat, so keep the burn pattern "bumpy."

Step 7

Use the same settings but with a much larger brush size to darken the bottom of the photo.

Step 8

Now add highlights on the trees with the Dodge Tool (O). The larger highlight should be on the side of the light source. Then a second, thinner one consits in light that gets reflected from the surrounding objects and environment.

Step 9

Once you've finished all the highlights and shadows, use a soft brush to draw the light source as a faint, cyan glow.

Step 10

Erase portions of the glow that cover the more up-front trees.

Step 11

From the layer menu, click on the Add Layer Mask icon. Press D on your keyboard, then go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Then go to Filter > Render Difference Clouds. This will hide portions of the glow in an irregular, cloud-like manner. You can see this process in more detail at Step 17.

Step 12

On a separate layer, paint a stronger cyan glow.

Step 13

Lastly, paint a smaller white glow on a separate layer. If you make it too intense, lower the Opacity of the layer.

Step 14

The next job is to add some reflected light on nearby trees. Start by painting thin strips of color on a trunk.

Step 15

Use the Smudge Tool (R) to soften up the glow.

Step 16

Smudge it until it looks like in the screenshot below.

Step 17

Just like in Step 11, add a Layer Mask to the layer by clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon. Make sure you have the Layer Mask selected by clicking on its icon, then go to Filter > Render Clouds. To make the clouds have more contrast and better defined edges, go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds.

Step 18

Repeat the process for all the nearby trees. The closer the light, the stronger the glow.

Step 19

Now create a new blank layer above all the other ones and create a few very faint spots on the canvas with the same cyan.

Step 20

Again, use a Clouds Layer Mask to hide portions of it.

Step 21

Now we're going to create an anamorphic lens flare. People are really quick to criticise the use of lens flares in digital work, and due to constant overuse, they're easy to hate. But the fact is that they do exist, and can be a great asset to a design. Rather joining a hate trend and condemming this effect, I suggest you study it and find ways to do it right!

Anamorphic lens flares appear from artifical light sources (such as fog lights) which are obviosuly very appropriate if you're trying to create the illusion that someone is being chased by people in the night. It also adds contrast and a focal point to the design, thus becoming a key element in telling the story of this poster.

Use a small, soft brush on low Opacity, hold Shift and draw a light streak from side to side that converges with the light source.

Step 22

Use the Pen Tool (P) in Path Mode to draw the new location for a secondary light streak.

Step 23

Choose the appropriate brush settings and with the Pen Tool active, right-click and go to Stroke Path. In the following menu, choose Brush and check the Simulate Pressure box, then press OK.

Step 24

Create three of these with different widths. You determine the width by choosing different brush sizes before stroking the path. You should create these three on the same layer.

Step 25

Command-click on the layer icon to make a selection of it or go to Select > Load Selection > OK.

Step 26

Use a large, soft brush on a light cyan color to give this detail a highlight.

Step 27

Add a few more thin lines at different sections of this beam of light.

Step 28

Next, on a separate layer add a simple dot of about 20 px with a hard edged brush. The go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and blur it until it looks like the one below.

Step 29

Now add a darker and larger beam over the other ones.

Step 30

Make a selection of it and give it a highlight too.

Step 31

Finally, add a soft, white glow in the center and to the side of the tree. Give it a low Opacity.

Step 32

Now we're going to alter the scene again, so that the light appears more realistic. On top of all the layers from the Layer Menu, create a Selective Color Adjustment Layer. Find the Cyans and use these settings, and don't press OK just yet.

Step 34

Find the Greens too, boost everything to max and press OK.

Step 35

Add a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer and from the drop-down menu, select "Black & White with Green Filter." Press OK and set the layer's Blending Mode to Color Dodge and Opacity to 70%.

Step 36

On top of these, add another Selective Color Adjustment Layer and change the Cyans to the settings shown below.

Step 37

Add one more Channel Mixer on top, as shown below.

Step 38

And a final one (for now) - Levels Adjustment Layer.

Step 39

Your scene should now have a similar appearance to the one shown below.

Step 40

Now we're going to enhance the appearnce of the trees by giving them very thin reflective areas. See the three trees on the left? Thy all have a 2 px soft line drawn on the right side. Do the same for your trees with a dark cyan color.

Step 41

Repeat this process for all the trees. The farther the tree, the less prominent the line.

Step 42

Now on a separate layer, draw some pure white ones. Keep these shorter though, and fewer.

Step 43

You'll now need a medium size version of this photo. Position it in the composition.

Step 44

There are multiple ways to cut out this person, but the safest and most flexible way I use is to paint a Mask Layer with a tablet. Below is a black and white view of my Mask. Cut out your character as well, so that he only holds a branch in his hand.

Step 45

Position him underneath the Lens Flare details, and slightly to the right of the tree.

Step 46

We'll now match the character's darkest values to the scene by adding a Selective Color Adjustment Layer. Once you've dragged the Black value to -3, press OK and make it a Clipping Mask (Alt + Command + G).

Step 47

Next up is making the shadows. Create a new blank layer and draw shadows cast by the bright light with a near black color.

Step 48

It's finally time to create the actual poster! Like I said before, an A4 poster means a lot of pixels. You can use smaller resources to keep your budget down by creating a new document that keeps the proportion of an A4 format, but at a smaller resolution: 1024 px by 1449 px at 300 ppi. Copy a merged version of the scene (Command + Shift + C) and paste it in the new document. Position it as shown below.

Step 49

A crucial part of any movie poster is the movie title and its typface. I used what I think is a good reflection of the concept. The tall faces of ITC Franklin Gothic Book Extra Compressed complete the idea of being illusive, sharp and cunning. The flat look is there to balance the piece and make sure that the poster does not become overly photoshopped. The simple white appearance provides contrast for an otherwise dark poster.

It's what I think is appropriate, but what would you use? Speaking of overly used stuff, I give you "Trajan!" I'm really curious to see what typeface you would find fit, let me know in the comments what you think would work better.

Step 50

For a more cinematic look though, I decided to horizontally Motion Blur a duplicated version of the font.

Step 51

After you give it a Motion Blur, you'll notice that the top edges are pretty harsh. Soften them up a bit by adding a smaller blur on the vertical axis.

Step 52

Then just set the layer's Blending Mode to Pin Light and play around with the Opacity.

Step 53

A typical appearnce of text on movie posters is very large tracking, or spaces between the letters of each word. You know how poster sometimes have the phrase: from the creator of this-and-that movie? Well I gave this design a humorous slant on that.

Step 54

Another common phrase is based on actual events, or something like that. Below is this true tale.

Step 55

And finally, a few other details like the movie website, release date (in this case the day I finished the poster - wouldn't it have been cool for me to do this on the date of 09.09.09?) and movie producer logo.

Step 56

On the top layer, add one last (I promise) Adjustment Layer: a Channel Mixer where you slightly change the Blue values.

Step 57

To create the branches, we'll use a very cool brush set that you can find here. Paint a few branches on a layer that's underneath the Channel Mixer.

Step 58

Erase portions that you want to appear hidden behind the letters.

Step 59

Now use a 2 px white brush again to add the reflections. I think the branches are a lovely touch of detail, without compromising the message. After all, it would be strange for him to be hold the only thin branch in the forest, right?

Step 60

A final effect is a partial Motion Blur on the edges that is just right for giving a sense of urgency and motion. Press Q and with a large Black & White gradient, drag a radial gradient from the center to just a bit past one of the lower corners of the canvas.

Step 61

Make sure you have the background layer active and go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Once you've done this, do the same for the branches, but add a bit more distance.

Step 62

And as a final touch, paint a few shadows for those branches over the letters. You can do that by painting with black in a new blank layer, making it a clipping mask for the letters and changing their Opacity to a low 15%.

Final Result

And the poster is now finished! I'd love to see your own movie posters, so be sure to put it in our Flickr group if you come up with something!

Here is a secondary version I made after the first one, in desktop format.

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